Targeting kids for addiction

There is no doubt that the well funded and decades-long push for marijuana legalization has been successful.  Maryland will soon join the sad reality that marijuana is now legal recreationally in 21 states and D.C., and legal medically in 37 states.  Proponents of marijuana legalization tout that making the drug lawful will decrease arrests.  But what is it doing to our communities and why have they started to target children at younger and younger ages?

Addiction-for-profit industries have always targeted young audiences.  The younger the addict, the longer the cycle of addiction, the greater the profit.  The latest example would be e-cigarette companies that market vaping as trendy and that create fun, child-appealing flavors, like cotton candy.  However, the marijuana industry has taken this marketing to another level by creating indistinguishable dupes of edible marijuana candies that replicate logos and designs of popular companies like Skittles, Airheads, Doritos, Nerds, Funyuns, and plenty of others.  This intentional marketing ploy has increased the reported cases of accidental consumption of cannabis edibles by children under age six by 1,375% within just five years.

Before we start blaming this increase on the man in the white van, the fact is that children can find the drugs in their own homes.  A young child, especially a child who cannot yet read, is not carefully inspecting a candy bag to see if it is without cannabis.  Children see a candy bag and rip it open, have no portion control, and may consume every bit of candy they find.  Candy-covered drugs can be deadly to children.  A bag of "medicated" Skittles contains 400 milligrams of THC, the active ingredient of cannabis.  A measly 50 milligrams of THC is enough to cause severe impairment in adults.  Imagine what that could do to a small child.

Addicting children early can impact their brain development and cognitive ability with specific learning and memory tasks later in life.  Studies indicate that impairments are associated with structural and functional changes in the hippocampus, which controls short- and long-term memory, and spatial memory, which enables navigation.

Studies also show that early exposure to cannabinoids in adolescents decreases the reactivity of brain dopamine reward centers later in adulthood, which means more potential for addiction to other substances.  Despite the denial of potheads and peddlers, marijuana is a gateway drug.

Even more disturbing is a recent warning from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that a new trend is brightly colored fentanyl pills that look like candy.  "Dubbed 'rainbow fentanyl' in the media, this trend appears to be a new method used by drug cartels to sell highly addictive and potentially deadly fentanyl made to look like candy to children and young people," says the DEA's warning memo.  According to the DEA, fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. 

Fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat facing this country and the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 45, according to the DEA.

Americans must wake up to the reality of addicting children to mind-altering substances.  We must criminalize the combination of controlled substances with marketing or packaging that appeals to children.  One example is the "Protecting Kids from Candy Flavored Drugs Act" introduced by Congressman Jim Banks (R-Ind.) in the last Congress.

Whether protections come from federal or state law, such protections are a necessary step in the right direction to address the problem.  If a parent or adult has these products, he must put them in a childproof container out of reach of any small hands or be prosecuted if harm comes as a result of his irresponsible actions.  We must demand that these products are not marketed toward children: remove the colorful logos, fun characters, and child-appealing flavors.  And we, as parents, must put a stop to harmful industries that prey on our children.

Penny Nance is CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, the nation's largest women's public policy organization.

Image: PxHere.

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